MOSCOW – A Russian court on Tuesday began hearing the appeal of American basketball star Brittney Griner against her sentence of nine years in prison for drug possession.

Griner, an eight-time star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner takes part in the session of the Moscow Regional Court via video link from the colony near Moscow, where she is located.

Griner’s February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner was returning to Russia, where she played in the offseason for the US Championship.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but testified that she had inadvertently packed them in a hurry and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team submitted written statements that she was prescribed cannabis for pain relief.

The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum, and after the conviction, Griner’s lawyers argued that the sentence was excessive. They said that in similar cases, defendants received an average of about five years in prison, with about a third of them receiving parole.

Prior to her sentencing, the US State Department had declared Griner an “unlawful detainer” – a charge Russia has vehemently denied.

Reflecting mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly announcing in July that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to bring Griner home with Paul Whelan. an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken did not elaborate, but the Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Washington had offered to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison and was once nicknamed the “dealer of death.”

The White House said that they have not yet received a productive response from Russia to this proposal.

Russian diplomats declined to comment on the US proposal and urged Washington to discuss the issue in confidential talks, avoiding public statements.

In September, US President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, as well as the player’s agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat separately with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister.

The White House said after the meetings that the president stressed to the families his “continued commitment to working in every way possible to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”

The Biden administration held a prisoner swap in April, with Moscow releasing Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for the US release of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenka, who was convicted in a drug-trafficking conspiracy.

Moscow also protested the arrest of another Russian currently in US custody, Alexander Vinnik, who was accused of laundering billions of dollars through an illegal cryptocurrency exchange. Vinnik had been in custody in Greece after being arrested there in 2017 at the request of the US, before being extradited to the US in August. It is not yet clear whether Russia could demand Vinnik’s release as part of a potential exchange.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

Source by [author_name]

Previous articleHow scientists want to make you young again
Next articleAdidas plans to end Kanye West partnership over ‘offensive behavior’ – Bloomberg News – One America News Network